Scientists used to think Australopithecus sediba, a species of early human, ate hard foods consisting of tree bark, leaves and other things; but a new study published in the journal Nature Communications showed this couldn’t have been the case.
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A thorough study of the skull of A. sediba which lived 2 million years ago via computer models showed the species had “glass jaws” that was not strong enough to chew hard foods without damaging its jaw muscle or causing damage in its jaw sockets - Mail Online reports.
This species lived in southern Africa and is considered to be one of the earliest ancestors of Homo sapiens or modern humans. Its exact connection to modern humans is difficult to establish because it could not use tools and did not have a flat face or large brain, even though it walked on two legs.
“If it had bitten as hard as possible on its molar teeth using the full force of its chewing muscles, it would have dislocated its jaw,” explained Dr. Justin Ledogar, a researcher at the University of New England in Australia.
Basing their computer models on the fossilized skull uneathered in Malapa cave near Johannesburg in 2008, the researchers used biomechanical tests to analyze different scenarios this species teeth and jaws could have been used for.
The scientists note that although A. sedima may have attempted eating some really hard foods, its molar and teeth were very unlikely to have been adapted to eating hard food, reasoned team leader David Strait, professor of anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis, USA.
This particular study was not attempting to establish how A. sediba could have been the director ancestor of modern humans, but it bears a clue to this fact.
“Humans also have this limitation on biting forcefully and we suspect that early Homo had it as well, yet the other australopiths that we have examined are not nearly as limited in this regard,” stated Dr. Legogar.
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This research was premised on the fact that past studies showed early human ancestors in Africa changed their diets about 3.76 million years ago, making them superior to animals and other primates who could not change their diets or adapt to new environments.